Interviews with Scientists: Pedro Resende
In the next in our Interviews with Scientists series, we spoke to Pedro Resende of i3S in Porto, Portugal. Pedro is a life sciences researcher in the field of stem cell biology, and the founder of Chaperone, an online marketplace for career development for scientists.
Pedro did a PhD in Basic and Applied Biology, studying stem cell Biology at the Salk Institute in San Diego, and UCLA. Currently, he is leading an independent line of research on the impact of aneuploidy on stem cell behaviour at the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health, Porto. He has worked in three countries (Portugal, UK and USA) and has experienced different roles in academia and industry. Pedro co-founded two academic associations and one startup. He has also worked as a Policy Advisor at Health Parliament Portugal, and as External Consultant at the Ministry of Health, Portugal.
Chaperone was recognised and awarded as a social impact company by different international entities, and has already supported scientists from over 25 countries. Pedro has also been involved in the design of career development programs for different ITNs and Twinning European projects, and more than 15 international prestigious institutions.
We spoke to Pedro about his career so far, his transition from academia to industry, and the motivation behind the Chaperone project.
Thanks for speaking with us, Pedro! Firstly, please tell us about your current roles...
I am a researcher at i3S, Porto, where I lead an independent line of research in stem cell Biology, and an entrepreneur, Co-Founder and Director of Chaperone, an online marketplace for career development for scientists.
Did you always want to work in science when you were younger, and if so why?
No, I wanted to be a professional volleyball player. I started playing at a very young age (6 years old) and played for a period of 18 years. My team were national champions for 5 years, and when I was 18 years old I was selected for the Portuguese Junior National team. A couple of injuries combined with bad decisions regarding which team to play with placed me in a position where I had to give up on this dream. I always loved Biology, but I did not see myself working as a scientist, it happened progressively, and came with many doubts whether this was the right choice for me.
What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?
I was one of those kids with a very curious mind, demanding answers and explanations for everything, and particularly fascinated by the complexity and diversity of Biology. What I enjoy most about working as a researcher is being allowed to keep this curious mind alive. I must say that as the years go by, I am getting much more pleasure from creating questions rather than trying to find answers. The curiosity is still there, just with this different angle.
How did the Chaperone project come about?
I have worked in 3 countries, 5 research institutions, and one pharmaceutical company. In all these places, with no exception, I’ve witnessed the same problem: scientists feeling powerless regarding their careers. My co-founder Joana Moscoso, also has strong international experience, and she confirmed that she also saw this problem affecting friends and colleagues everywhere she has worked. We were both very motivated to understand and solve this problem when we met, and in a two-year journey talking to different stakeholders on this topic (institutional directors, scientists, career consultants, etc) we realized that there was a strong need for a solution that was high quality, more democratic, more personalized, and more modern in general. The idea of an online marketplace was then born.
Why is supporting scientists with career development so important to you?
First of all, it's a very personal issue. During a long period in my career, I experienced much anxiety and frustration caused by not having access to the right support at the right time. Also, this lack of career support affected my close friends doing science, some to a level that had a strong impact on their mental health. It is estimated that the incidence of depression in scientists is 4-6 times higher than the overall population. There are PhD programs where more than a third of the students are clinically diagnosed with depression. This is dramatic! I felt I had the knowledge, the network, and tools in my hands to do something to solve this problem, and so I couldn’t just stand, watch, and do nothing about it.
You have worked in three different countries in your career so far. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced when working abroad?
My first international working experience was in a small city in south England. Not the easiest place to make friends, because there were few young internationals living there, so that was the main challenge, to have a healthy social life outside work. When I moved to California, the challenges were different. I was super happy with my social life in San Diego and Los Angeles, but it was very hard to be more than two flights, and 16 hours away from my family and friends. At work, I never experienced significant difficulties adapting to work culture, my supervisors and colleagues were always nice to me, I never felt like an outsider.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing life scientists today?
The biggest challenge facing scientists is how to find the stability and conditions to do good science. The overall hypercompetition for funding (either for grants or contracts/fellowships) makes it almost impossible for 90% of scientists, to focus on good scientific questions and, design, and manage projects efficiently. Another challenge, more at a societal level, and perhaps a more obvious one, is the fight against fake news, which many times is masked as science. Sometimes it is science, but “poor” science, with exaggerated or distorted conclusions.
You have worked in both academia and industry roles during your career. How challenging was the transition between the two?
These transitions happened early in my career, and I invested much time trying to identify and develop transferable skills, so this was a little bit easier for me than I hear for most people. But they took quite a long time, and there were many mistakes and many many failed applications. I have taken three 4-6 month breaks in my career, and these helped to ease the transitions in a more peaceful way.
What advice would you offer to a scientist looking to transition from academia to industry?
The transition from academia to industry is neither a fast, nor easy one to make on your own. Search for career support within your institution. If they do not provide career services, look for companies or freelancers that can help. It’s an investment that is well worth the time and money.
Who have been your greatest role models, and why?
My parents. Everyday, I am super grateful for the education they have given me. It is the foundation of everything I am as a human being inside and outside work.
What's the most important lesson you have learned in your career so far?
It's all about the people. I always aimed for grants, fellowships, publications, progress, recognition and success. I jumped from project to project, from one lab to another, changed scientific fields, moved different countries, but in the end, what always remained as the most precious achievement of every chapter that was closed, was the people I met, their stories, and their friendship.
What is your proudest achievement as a scientist so far?
I am really proud of the results of my PhD studies and my thesis defence, and also of the success of the students I’ve supervised.
Outside of your career, what do you enjoy doing most? (e.g. hobbies, passion projects, etc.)
Spending quality time with my girlfriend and my daughter, and my family and friends. I am an avid learner, and travelling is almost a physiological need. I am a surfer, and love great food and wine (fun fact: I passed with merit on level II of Wine & Spirit Education Trust, London).
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
I think one of the biggest discoveries in my scientific field was the discovery of DNA polymerase I from Thermus aquaticus (Taq polymerase). It is definitely not the most sensational discovery for the non-scientific community, but the truth is that is almost impossible to find a biotech lab that does not do PCR, and without Taq polymerase this would be like in an office, everyone having to add ink to a printer every time a page was printed. So it is fair to conclude that indirectly it contributed to millions of findings on cancer Immunology, Biology, Neuroscience, Developmental biology, and more.
And finally… are there any other specific issues or initiatives in science that you are involved with or are passionate about?
I have been involved in science policy. I had the experience of working at a think tank called Health Parliament, and later I was invited with a group of 6 people to work as an external consultant for the Ministry of Health for the Areas of Innovation. I believe it is crucial to have more scientists “going out of the lab” and getting involved with different sectors of our society, and policy-making is definitely one area where this is much needed.
Thank you so much for an interesting and insightful interview, Pedro! We wish you all the best with your career. Connect with Pedro and find out more about Chaperone:
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